Getting in touch with the Indian culture for the first time

India is widely famous for the delicious food, the bright colours, the vivid music and the absolute kindness of its people. Before my first trip to India I read a lot about these and I was eager to witness everything. But I was still unfamiliar with the real Indian culture and was therefore unknowingly making  many mistakes during my first stay.

Let me tell you about some of my first “culture shock” experiences.

  1. Everything can be finger food: Of course I use my finger to eat fries, a burger or a sandwich in Germany, too. But I was quite astonished by the way most of the Indians use their fingers to eat all the curries and most of the other dishes.
    Indian food
    Indian food – You will love it!

    Ripping apart my roti just with the fingers of the right hand was a skill I had to practice a lot and during my first trip I put more food on my face and my clothes than into my stomach. Once I managed it, it became quite natural and most of the time I don’t use cutlery. But I am looking forward to seeing my students struggle with their first dishes and to watching them handling the Indian food better from day to day.

  2. The direct way is not always the shortest: “Being German means to be pragmatic, direct and therefore to be efficient.” How wrong I was! I learned this lesson the hard way, that in India it is seldom the best to say frankly what you want or to expect a short “Yes” or “No” as response to a simple question. It is not only incredible rude to shout out your wishes and demands straight from the shoulder, it can also lead to awkward and embarrassing It was hard for me to understand this and I am thankful I had so patient hosts. In the meantime I learned to relax more and to accept an indirect answer. Only when again I insist to have everything done my way I slowly notice I still have to learn a lot about the Indian way of communication.
  3. Half an hour can be quite a long time: Time zones in Germany and in India are different. In India there is the IST. For a long time I thought ITS stands for Indian Standard Time. It took me a while to realize it’s just an abbreviation for Indian Stretchable Time! In my first exchange year my host told me that we will leave the house in half an hour.
    Sometimes it’s time to sit down and not to be in a hurry.

    You can’t belief how fast I took a shower, got dressed, had breakfast and packed my rucksack for school only to sit in front of the house for an extra half an hour. Time is relative – Einstein knew that and the Indians do definitely trust him. Nowadays I often leave my watch at home when I explore an Indian city. What is it good for anyway? Things happen, when they are supposed to happen. An understanding I am happy to have learned in India.

Of course there were many more situations that left me puzzled when I experienced them the first time. And I can easily imagine how strange it must have been for my Indian friends to deal with that German teacher who was obviously making a habit of putting his foot in it. I still have to thank them for all their patience!

Different countries, different customs

How to avoid missunderstandings

In our recent posts you can often read about misunderstandings that can happen on both sides during an exchange project. But how can you avoid those misunderstandings and why do they happen so often?

An mathematical example

It shouldn’t take you too long to get the result for an easy calculation like 8 – 2. But how long will it take you, when the well known rules of calculation do not apply any more. Imagine the symbol plus is now representing a division and when you see a division you must multiply. Try to solve the following equations as fast as possible. Use the following new rules:

+ turns to /, / turns to  *, * turns to and turns into +

8-2 =
12+4 =
4*3 =
6/2 =
12*2 =
20+10 =

Was it more difficult than ususal? It gets better when you practice more often. But you still have to stay concentrated all the time. Otherwise you fall back into old patterns.

Different countries, different rules

When you enter a foreign country you also have to apply to new rules. But contrary to the example above nobody tells you these rules, you have to figure out the norms and conventions all by yourself. And when you finaly get to know the right rules you have to apply to them accordingly all the time.

Can you imagine how exhausting it is when you try not to make any mistakes and you  ponder all the time how to interpret certain customs the right way?

If you make a small mistake only once, you create one of our so called small misunderstandings!

How to avoid misunderstandings

But you can get rid of those misunderstandings. First you have to show tolerance when somebody doesn’t act like you expected. Second, you have to to project your self into the other’s perspective. What could be the real purpose that you guest acted like he did?

At the Johannes-Turmair-Gymnasium we do a lot of role plays during our intercultural training. The students act and diskuss different scenarios. In all those stories somebody behaves different and therefore doesn’t answer your expectation. With the help of an experienced teacher the students talk about the situation and consider the actual reason for the strange behaviour.

My guest stays in his room all day! Why doesn’t he/she eat our food? Doesn’t he like what we cook? Why doesn’t he want to attend my training  with the football club?

Just read our worksheet about this problem (in German language only). Or tell us your story! Could you solve a misunderstanding with the guest you hosted? Or did you even cause a small misunderstanding? We are looking forward to reading your comments!

Meet the Germans – a video analysis

The German students are still preparing themselves for the arrival of their Indian guests. Because of this weekly intercultural training they are now aware of small culturall differences that can result in big misunderstandings and can also lead to a so called culture shock.

But what are these differences? What is typical for Germany and how do Germans handle things diffent?

The students combed the internet for a collection of dos and don’ts in Germany.

The following videos are just a small example of the huge amount of Videos you can find on youtube. Dozens of travellers and exchange students talk about their impressions of Germany and about the small things in average life they fount quite different to their own culture. 

Please leave a comment, if you know another good clip about German issues that give you the culture shock!

And here are two more links to some more great videos:

Rewboss, a British, who lives in Germany for years tells us some things he would miss if he had to leave Germany: Ten things about Germany

SamWaltonMan is taking part in an one year exchange in Germany. In his videos about Germany he talks about the cultural differences that you should be aware of when coming to Germany: Life in Germany – Ep. 54: Cultural differences